Change Responsibly – Stretching the Police:
Going through old files, I came across a collection of video topics from my former agency’s annual summit. This, like many agencies host meetings to set the tone and sharpen the vision. There are only messages of community service through most agency missions.
Police are not the enemy. Their job is difficult and challenging. It is truly a double-edge sword where you’re the savior who pulls daddy off from molesting his daughter, yet become the villain because you’re taking her husband to jail for molesting their daughter.
By creation, police are the State’s arm of violence. Please allow me to explain while that soaks in.
While we’ve transformed over decades into the roles of community worker, counselor, teacher, preacher and anything needed at that moment, the legal reality is law enforcement’s function is to provide the surety that laws created by legislation will be honored or enforced if violated.
This is an example of a police officer’s oath of office. Most are required to be sworn, signed and filed in their clerk of courts’ office:
I……………………DO SWEAR,, THAT – I WILL WELL AND TRULY SERVE – OUR SOVEREIGN COUNTRY AND STATE – AS A POLICE OFFICER WITHOUT FAVOR OR AFFECTION – MALICE OR ILL-WILL – UNTIL I AM LEGALLY DISCHARGED, THAT I WILL SEE AND CAUSE ¬ OUR COMMUNITY’S PEACE TO BE KEPT AND PRESERVED – AND THAT – I WILL PREVENT TO THE BEST OF MY POWER – ALL OFFENSES AGAINST THAT PEACE – AND THAT – WHILE I CONTINUE TO BE A POLICE OFFICER – I WILL – TO THE BEST OF MY SKILL AND KNOWLEDGE – DISCHARGE ALL THE DUTIES THEREOF – FAITHFULLY – ACCORDING TO LAW.
SO HELP ME GOD.
Do you see term slike helper or friend or anything other than upholding, enforcing, preventing? It’s difficult for the community or the agencies to reconcile the requirements of their neighbor-citizen service versus their keeper of the peace roles.
This is a simple, not open for debate example of police force:
Cops don’t dictate the speed limit, but it is their duty to ensure the speed limits enacted by the legislative body are adhered to. What are the options of force? Posted speed limits signs are a form of force. Patrol cars parked in the speeding zone is another form of force. Running radar and warning drivers to slow down is an elevated form of force. Writing a speeding citation is yet another force option. Arresting the driver for speeding is possibly the highest form of force to make sure that limit on speed as established by a governing body is honored.
It may be cliché, but the saying, “We don’t make the laws, we enforce them,” is absolutely accurate. This isn’t an alibi for the extrajudicial use of police force, it’s just an illustration that the function of a police body isn’t to be your crutch or your punching bag. The job of the police are to ensure the laws of the jurisdiction are adhered to and enforced if violated.
Now comes the theoretical confliction.
The police are public servants. The term “servant” applies to helper on call to aid and assist in times of need or distress. This doesn’t sound like legislative muscle poised to enforce the law upon violation. No, it doesn’t. It’s a position of helper, and fixer.
Police are called upon more than 95% of the time to handle non-violent, quality of life circumstances. even in the most violent, crime ridden cities, police respond to violent crime calls only about 3% of the time. While this isn’t a statistical crime session, it is an example of what cops do with almost all of their other time on duty – Helping people fix their problems.
Can you imagine the personal dilemma of being trained, equipped and constitutionally commissioned with the empowerment of enforcing the laws of that jurisdiction, yet in almost 97% of calls for your assistance they are non-violent situations such as arguments between spouses, kids not wanting to go to school or a boyfriend not returning your daughter’s cell phone? You’ve not been trained by your employer’s academy to handle disputes with alternative resolutions or de-escalation techniques. You only know how to enforce the law and defend yourself and others.
The occupational dichotomy between the enforcer and guardian ethos is a powerful pendulum swing in either direction. Containing and directing those influencers is the function of the agencies’ heads and chain-of-command. An agency who gains a reputation of abuse, has failed leadership by allowing the domestic warrior mindset to overpower the community helper ideology.
In opposition, agencies ineffective at controlling crime, and focus more on appeasing political ambitions and personal agendas also exemplify failed leadership. It is a balance requiring monitoring every second of every day on every instance an officer interacts with the public.
So what does this all mean, besides spending the last ten minutes getting to the conclusion?
Police reform will not come easily. There are over 900,000 sworn officers – campus, city, county, state, federal and tribal, that work for 17,985 separate law enforcement agencies in the United States.
There is no one single governing body that dictates or influences these agencies. They, for the most part, are independent governmental jurisdictions who only answer to those within their respective political subdivision. Contrary to popular belief, while the FBI may have concurrent investigative jurisdiction with even a college campus police department, they do not have supervisory authority over any officer within that or any other law enforcement agency.
How do you affect change?
Reform will require changing the very mission, not just the practice of policing. A complete cultural overhaul that focuses on adopting the guardian ethos as opposed to the “us versus them” homeland soldier mentality. This change will require the same dynamics as any mass overhaul of disparate organizations – Clarity of Focus – Patience – Education – Accountability – Encouragement, just to name a few.
The reality is it will take a coordinated effort to develop best practice models based on multidisciplinary, social science approaches. That being said, it’s also vital to acknowledge the police cannot be everything to everybody. Society may have stretched the requirement of the police too far. Maybe the police just aren’t equipped to handle every one of society’s ills and quality of life concerns.
As an aggregate populace, it may be more productive to look at the entirety of what the police do for each community and evaluate what percentage of the whole are habitually acting in bad faith or illegal activity. Do good cops go bad? Yes. Do bad guys become cops? Yes, but that is the case in every profession. Are there bad kids in your child’s kindergarten class – Yes, so does that mean we march against little Johnny? No – it’s called life – bad things happen and are often caused by equally bad people.
Reform will result in a social service gap that has never been seen in this country. Even more concerning is that there are no public, private or social service agencies to pick up the slack once police stop doing the extra, non-criminal enforcement activities. For example – child custody exchanges, civil seizure of property, vehicle title verification, car insurance compliance checks, welfare concerns for the elderly or infirmed, delivering meals to the homeless, maintaining social media sites to keep us informed and enjoying the sense of community, funeral and wedding escorts, campaigning for their chief or sheriff’s election, visiting our kids at school to say hello, and the endless list of extras the profession has shouldered that have absolutely zero to do with the content of their sworn oath.
Can the profession of policing do better, be better? Yes. It has come so far since it’s inception. Can you force a 17,985 agencies juggernaut to change with violence against their communities and its their members? Absolutely not. If anything it will become more entrenched as a means of survival.
Becoming an agent of change requires more than a hashtag and bricks thrown. There must be direction and a definition of what that change looks like.
Police aren’t against changing to best serve their communities—they just need clear orders as to what their change will be. Don’t just demand change – define change, and uphold your end of the societal responsibility while that change is occurring.
Chief Scott Silverii, Ph.D.